Carbon-14 Analysis: A Tool to Detect Frauds

A material’s inherent radiocarbon (Carbon-14) levels can be used to assess its authenticity. As shown in numerous studies , Carbon-14 analyses can be used to differentiate natural products from their petrochemically-derived counterparts, including vanillin derived from vanilla beans, essential oils like cinnamon oil and bitter almond oil, caffeine from coffee or tea, acetic acid, citric acid, curcumin (turmeric extract), and edible oils like olive, sesame, corn, squalene, and rapeseed.

The use of Carbon-14 analyses to establish natural versus synthetic origin of consumer products is not new. It has been well established for decades as a useful and accurate tool. However, the outdated terms of dpm/g (disintegrations per minute per gram) or even radiocarbon age are now replaced with clearly understandable terminology that is easily marketed and understood by both regulators and consumers.

In 2011, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention added biobased content testing to its Food Chemicals Codex as a method for verifying the authenticity of natural ingredients in dietary supplements and food.

How does Carbon-14 Detect Petroleum-derived Artificial Substances?

Standardized methods such as ISO 16620-2 detect synthetic substances in materials through radiocarbon (Carbon-14) analysis. Materials sourced from nature have a known radiocarbon level. Products with petroleum-derived components, however, will have a significantly lower radiocarbon level. Many artificial additives in food, drinks, drugs, and cosmetics are petroleum-based, and these materials have no radiocarbon left.

For example, Product A wholly made from renewable sources (plant extracts) will be 100% biobased according to ISO 16620-2. For a blended product that is composed of a natural extract and a synthetic chemical compound, the test will yield a biobased carbon result between 0% and 100% proportional to the quantity of each of the two components in the blend.

Carbon-14 testing differentiates biobased content, that which is derived from recently living feedstocks such as plant material, from fossil-derived content. The test does not differentiate between the different ingredients contained but indicates the natural or synthetic origin of the carbon.

Beta Analytic’s High-Quality Natural Products Authenticity Testing

ISO/IEC 17025:2005-accredited Beta Analytic provides radiocarbon analyses to determine the percentage of natural versus synthetic content of flavors, additives, coloring, fragrances, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and other chemical components in food, drugs, and beverages.

The lab reports natural vs synthetic components of a product according to ISO 16620-2, an international standard that includes Carbon-14 analysis to measure the exact percentage of carbon in a material that comes from renewable sources or biomass. Results for natural products source testing are reported according to ISO 16620-2 8.3.2: biobased carbon content as a fraction of total carbon (TC).